31 October 2003, Volume 3, Number 42
NOTE TO READERS:
This is the last issue of "Media Matters" in its current format. From November, "Media Matters" will be published twice a month.
INTERNATIONALVULNERABLE JOURNALISTS. Recent fatalities in Iraq illustrate dangers faced by war correspondents, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted on 29 October. Twelve journalists have been killed in action since the war in Iraq started on 19 March, several more reporters have died from medical conditions that proved fatal in the field or from road accidents, and two journalists remain missing, according to the CPJ. Despite these tragic losses within the journalistic community, CPJ research shows that most journalists killed are not war correspondents. Between 1993 and 2002, CPJ has documented 366 confirmed cases of journalists who were killed while conducting their work. Although conflict and war account for much of the violence against the press, CPJ research demonstrates that the vast majority (76 percent) of journalists killed since 1993 did not die in crossfire but were hunted down and murdered. CC
AZERBAIJANOPPOSITION EDITOR ARRESTED, NEWS AGENCY DIRECTOR CAUTIONED. Police arrested Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," on 27 October and charged him with organizing and participating in mass disorders and with violent resistance to a representative of the authorities, Turan reported. Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on 28 October condemning Arifoglu's arrest and the ongoing postelection reprisals against journalists. Also on 27 October, Mehman Aliyev, director of the news agency Turan, was summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office and given written instructions to check the veracity of, and if necessary retract, Turan's reports of three incidents, all of which, according to Aliyev, subsequently proved to be true. In a written rebuttal carried by Turan on 28 October, Aliyev called on the prosecutor-general to investigate "numerous violations of the law" registered during the 15 October ballot. On 28 October, the Council of Editors of the Baku Press Club issued a statement expressing concern at both Arifoglu's arrest and the warning issued to Aliyev, Turan reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003)
JOURNALISTS ASSESS THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN. The heads of two organizations representing Azerbaijani journalists, Yeni Nesil chairman Arif Aliyev and Press Council head Aflatun Amashov, have both offered subdued assessments of how Azerbaijan's media covered the recent presidential election campaign and the crackdown that followed. Aliyev told the Russian-language paper "Zerkalo" on 18 October that the level of coverage of the preelection campaign was noticeably lower than during previous elections. But, at the same time, he made the point that journalists' access to information was more restricted and that never before have journalists been subjected to such violence as during the recent ballot. He added that whereas in the past journalists have regularly been assaulted by police and representatives of local authorities, now they are frequently targeted by men in civilian clothes whose official status is unclear. On 23 October, Amashov chaired a session of the Press Council that focused on two issues: how the media are coping with their obligation to keep society informed of developments, and how the authorities respect freedom of the media, Turan reported. Participants concluded that neither group performed adequately. Amashov admitted that journalists were divided into rival camps (pro-government and opposition), each of which promoted its own candidate while vilifying those of the opposing camp. At the same time, he said, the authorities did not create the necessary conditions to guarantee media freedom but, on the contrary, resorted to violence and repression against journalists. ("RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 24 October 2003)
BELARUSNEW TV CHANNEL REPLACES RUSSIAN PREDECESSOR. Broadcasts of Lad, a national family-television channel that recently replaced Russia's Kultura channel in Belarus, cover 75 percent of Belarusian territory, Belapan reported on 23 October, quoting the new station's general producer, Alyaksandr Semyarnyou. "It is absurd that a nation of 10 million should have only one national channel," Semyarnyou said of the government decision to replace Kultura with Lad, adding that the former Russian broadcaster's audience never exceeded 3 percent of the population. Lad reportedly will offer programming on the arts, history, and national heritage, cartoons and entertainment shows for children, sports, and regional news. "There is a pronounced tendency toward increasing the share of the Belarusian language [in Lad's programs]," Semyarnyou said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003)
CZECH REPUBLICTELEVISION TO OFFER LIVE COVERAGE OF MURDER TRIAL. State-owned broadcaster Czech Television announced its intention to broadcast live proceedings from a conspiracy-to-murder trial on 30 October following approval from a superior court in Prague, the daily "Pravo" reported on 24 October. The event will mark the first live coverage of a trial in the station's history, according to the paper. Czech Television News Director Zdenek Samal said coverage of the case, which involves preparations made by former Foreign Ministry aide Karel Srba to contract the murder of a Czech journalist, is in the public interest. Coverage will reportedly include appeals procedures in the courtroom and interviews with individuals who "have something to say" about the case, "Pravo" reported. Veteran anchorman Jiri Janecek was appointed general director of Czech Television in mid-July on a pledge to "revive" the state broadcaster, where the environment has been volatile since reporters launched a strike to protest a political appointment in late-2000. When the trial began on 30 October, judges ordered the live broadcast off the air, apparently because two of Srba's co-defendants argued it could harm their defense. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003)
PREMIER OPPOSES PLANS TO TELEVISE FORMER MINISTRY OFFICIAL'S APPEAL. Prime Minister Spidla said on 24 October that he opposes plans to broadcast live the appeal trial of former Foreign Ministry official Karel Srba, dpa and CTK reported. Spidla said broadcasting the proceedings would be "unethical" and could "negatively influence all participants in the hearings." Srba was sentenced in June to eight years in prison for conspiring to murder a journalist. His appeal is to be heard on 30 and 31 October at the Prague High Court. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003)
HUNGARYRADIO CHAIRWOMAN'S COMMUNIST-ERA OPERATOR STEPS OUT OF SHADOW... A former state-security officer who claims to have been in contact with Hungarian Radio Chairwoman Katalin Kondor between 1979 and 1983 told the "Nepszava" daily that Kondor "was a highly qualified and disciplined agent working to high professional standards," the daily reported on 27 October. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he used to meet Kondor in a "conspiracy flat" that belonged to the security services. He said Kondor, in her capacity as a journalist, helped to blow the cover of an "industrial spy" who wanted to sell documents from strategically important institutions. The former officer said he is willing to testify to his claims in court, if necessary. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003)
...SOCIALISTS SAY RADIO CHAIRWOMAN IS SUBJECT TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY. Socialist Party spokesman Istvan Nyako said on 28 October that Hungarian Radio Chairwoman Katalin Kondor, who has been recently accused of cooperation with the communist-era secret services, is a public figure and thus subject to a law on public vettings, Hungarian media reported. Kondor said the previous day that she does not consider herself a public figure, since she does not form public opinion. Nyako said the act on vetting those who hold prominent positions in public life clearly states that the heads of state-run media outlets are among those who form public opinion, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. According to Nyako, the radio chairwoman has two options: resign or accept the fact that she is a public figure, in which case data on her past may be made public. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003)
IRANPARLIAMENT CLEARS INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY IN CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST'S DEATH. Tehran parliamentary representative Jamileh Kadivar on 28 October read out the report of the Article 90 Committee -- which investigates complaints against the government -- on the incarceration and death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi last summer, IRNA, ISNA, and Mehr News Agency reported. The report noted that Kazemi had a press permit from the Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, and it cleared the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) of involvement in Kazemi's death -- an MOIS employee is being tried in connection with the case. The report also noted that the MOIS had rejected initial accusations that Kazemi was a spy. "There was no justification for issuing a detention order, and the changing of the detention order to a bail order took place in circumstances in which Zahra Kazemi was in a state of brain death and without respect for the law," the report said. Tehran Public Prosecutor Said Mortazavi declined to participate in the committee's inquiry, although he did provide written answers to its queries. "The report consisted entirely of lies and slander," Mortazavi said on 28 October, according to ILNA. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003)
IRAQJOURNALIST SHOT DEAD IN MOSUL. Ahmed Shawkat, editor of the Iraqi weekly "Bilah Ittijah," was shot and killed in the northern city of Mosul on 28 October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. An unidentified gunman reportedly followed Shawkat to the roof of his office and killed him. CPJ is investigating the motive for the killing. The Associated Press reported that Shawkat had received threats several weeks ago warning him to stop printing his newspaper. For updates, see http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/222/ CC
RSF URGES U.S. MILITARY AND IRAQI POLICE TO HALT DETENTIONS OF JOURNALISTS. In a 29 October statement, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) observed that the "often aggressive attitude of U.S. soldiers and frequent arrests of journalists have reinforced the tendency of the ideologically fractured Iraqi media to be prudent and apply self-censorship." On 28 October, Samer Hamza, a cameraman with the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera, was detained by U.S. soldiers near a Baghdad police station on 27 October, RSF reported. He was released on 29 October without any official explanation for his arrest, although reportedly, the U.S. Army suspected him and his driver of having prior knowledge of an attack on the police station. According to RSF, Hamza's arrest is the fourth known case in October of journalists arrested and briefly detained by U.S. forces: on 3 October, Al-Jazeera cameraman Salah Hussein Nussaif was arrested for three days and held in the custody of the U.S. Army and Iraqi authorities; AFP photographer Patrick Baz and a Reuters journalist were detained for several hours on 19 October in a police station in the city of Al-Fallujah, allegedly because the U.S. Army was searching for someone who had filmed an attack on one of its convoys in Al-Fallujah. For more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.rsf.org. CC
IFJ PLANS MISSION TO IRAQ. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Federation of Arab Journalists (FAJ) plan to conduct a joint mission to Iraq in January 2004 to assist in the creation of a national journalists association. IFJ says that an association uniting journalists from the country's diverse ethnic and cultural groups would be a "valuable fresh start" for the fragmented profession in Iraq. A delegation of six IFJ and FAJ representatives will meet with local journalists, UN agencies, and civil society groups in Al-Basrah, Moussoul, and Erbil. For more, contact IFJ: email@example.com
MONTENEGROREFORM OF CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAWS URGED... On 22 October, the British-based media watchdog ARTICLE 19 and the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee wrote to Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic about his government's commitment to reform the Criminal Code defamation provisions to bring the laws in line with international standards. The letter urged him to further discussions in the Justice Ministry working group and to acknowlege concerns about the consequences of decriminalising defamation, particularly hate speech. The statement also noted that hate speech and unwarranted invasion of privacy are issues that must be regulated by other laws. CC
...AND KEY AREAS FOR REFORM HIGHLIGHTED. ARTICLE 19 also expressed concern over the retention of a three-year prison sentence for conviction under Articles 194 (defamation), 196 (violation of the union and the member states), and 198 (violation of the reputation of a foreign country or international organization). ARTICLE 19 also regretted the retention of Articles 196 and 198, which seek to protect the reputation of the Montenegrin state and national symbols and the reputation of foreign countries and international organizations. Finally, the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee and ARTICLE 19 stressed the importance of setting clear limits to the fines that can be imposed on defendants ruled guilty of defamation. Such high fines can be as crippling to the functioning of a free press as sentences. Recent court judgements in defamation cases brought in Montenegro -- such as the sentencing of Vladislav Asanin (Subotic vs. Asanin) to three months in prison -- have shown that the judiciary does not apply the standards of the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights in defamation cases. For more, write firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.article19.org. CC
ROMANIAROMANIAN RADIO CORPORATION RECEIVES AWARD. The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), announced on 28 October that it would award its Certificate of Merit to the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation for promoting independent public radio broadcasting in Romania and Southeastern Europe. For more, email@example.com CC
RUSSIADOUBTS ABOUT OFFICIAL VERSION OF EDITOR'S MURDER... On 24 October, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) raised doubts about official accounts of the 9 October murder of newspaper editor Alexei Sidorov after conducting a fact-finding visit to Togliatti and Samara on 16-17 October with the Russian nongovernmental Glasnost Defense Foundation. The authorities have already dismissed the notion that the killing was related to Sidorov's work and contradictory statements by officials indicate that the case is being conduced in an unprofessional fashion. RSF has said it believes that no hypothesis should be ruled out at this early stage and is concerned that international attention may have led investigators to reach premature conclusions. CC
...PAPER'S STAFF BELIEVE MURDER LINKED TO JOURNALISM. The senior staff of "Toliattinskoye Obosrenie," the regional newspaper that Sidorov edited, believe that the murder was linked to his work as a journalist and on 10 October the paper published a report that spelled out four hypotheses. A suspect accused of killing Sidorov in a street brawl has been held by the authorities since 12 October. RSF notes that those responsible for the murder of the newspaper's previous editor, Valerii Ivanov, in April 2002, have still not been identified and that Ivanov was killed with a homemade knife. The staff said they had "difficulty believing the official version" for several reasons. For example, when a re-enactment of the killing was held on the evening of 17 October, the paper's staff noted that the suspect made a mistake regarding the spot where it took place. For more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.rsf.org.CC
MEDIA MINISTRY TO CREATE LITERARY JOURNAL. The Media Ministry has initiated the creation of a journal that will publish the creative works of new Russian authors, strana.ru reported on 23 October, citing Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigorev. According to Grigorev, outstanding issues connected with publishing the journal will be resolved before the end of the year and a tender will be held among potential publishers. According to the site, Grigorev had difficulty answering the question of whether the journal will be fully financed by the federal budget. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2003)
'ZAVTRA' RECEIVES WARNING. The Media Ministry has issued seven warnings to media outlets that are accused violating the terms of their registration, RosBalt reported on 28 October. The newspaper "Zavtra" received a written warning for distributing extremist materials. Two private, local television stations were warned for showing "erotic" programming. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003)
FORMER JOURNALIST NAMED NEW NATIONALITIES MINISTER IN DAGHESTAN. Zagir Arukhov, a 43-year-old former journalist and faculty member of Daghestan State University, has been named republican minister for nationalities policy, gazeta.ru reported on 22 October. Arukhov succeeds Magomedsalikh Gusaev, who was assassinated in Makhachkala two months ago ("RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October)
SERBIACRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST TV NOVI SAD FOR HATE SPEECH. On 9 October, a group of Novi Sad academics and a lawyer filed criminal charges against TV Novi Sad and historian Jovan Pejin for hate speech. The move came after Pevin appeared on TV Novi Sad and, according to the plaintiffs, vilified minorities in Vojvodina, according to the "ANEM Weekly Update" (10-24 October). The group said that the Broadcast Council and other bodies had failed to take adequate measures after the incident. CC
JOURNALISTS URGE CHANGES TO BROADCAST ACT. On 13 October, the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists and the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) proposed changes to Serbia's Broadcast Act in an effort to prevent political interference in the work of the country's first media monitoring body. Under the proposed changes, the parliaments of Serbia and its northern province Vojvodina will no longer have the right to nominate members to the Broadcast Council. Instead, the nine members will be nominated by a series of professional associations, the "ANEM Weekly Update" (10-24 October) reported. CC
JOURNALISTS 'STILL UNDER PRESSURE.' Three years after democratic changes in Serbia, the media situation is better than under the Milosevic regime, the president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, Milic Lucic-Cavic, said on 13 October. She noted that "there are no more journalist murders, no journalists in prison, and no journalists having to pay two million Deutschmark fines." Yet, according to Lucic-Cavic, political pressure continues because "politicians expect [the media] to be their partners, to be loyal, to turn a blind eye to their errors, to praise them, and that is not what the media is supposed to do," she said in an interview with the Pirot-based weekly "Sloboda." CC
BROADCAST COUNCIL EAGER TO DISTRIBUTE FREQUENCIES. On 15 October, the Broadcast Agency Council asked the minister for traffic and telecommunications to define the maximum technically feasible number of national networks so that bids may be invited for national frequencies as soon as possible, the "ANEM Weekly Update" (10-24 October) reported. A council statement says that a list of candidates for the management boards of Serbia and Vojvodina has been set up and would soon be published. As authorized by law, the council has also adopted regulations for all broadcasters during the presidential election campaign. CC
MINISTER TO SUE NEWSPAPER. Serbian Employment Minister Dragan Milovanovic said on 21 October that he would sue the daily "Kurir" for publishing false information about him, "ANEM Weekly Update" (10-24 October) reported. The article claimed that Milovanovic owns three companies and sits on six boards and is building a luxurious villa with no apparent income other than a "modest" minister's salary. CC
GERMAN MEDIA GROUP BUYS MAJORITY CONTROL OF 'DNEVNIK.' On 23 October, the German media group WAC acquired a majority stake in the Novi Sad daily "Dnevnik," the third-largest media company in Serbia and Montenegro. Under the agreement signed with Dnevnik Holdings, WAC owns 55 percent of the company's shares, with the remainder owned by the Vojvodina Assembly. WAC is to invest about 14 million euros ($16.3 million) in the company, the "ANEM Weekly Update" (10-24 October) reported. CC
TAJIKISTANWORKSHOP FOCUSES ON ANTICORRUPTION JOURNALISM. Over 40 journalists from throughout Tajikistan attended the country's first workshop concerning reporting on corruption. The 22-23 October workshop was organized by the Dushanbe center of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Transparency International (TI). TI's Corruption Perceptions Index gave Tajikistan 1.8 out of 10. A score of 10 is "highly clean" and a score of zero is "highly corrupt." The very high level of perceived corruption within Tajikistan led to the pilot workshop on anticorruption journalism. Lawyer Rahmatullo Zoirov analyzed media, libel, and access to information laws. The issue of corruption within the media was also discussed. For more, contact Salla Kayhko at email@example.com. CC
UKRAINECONCERN OVER ATTEMPTS AT INTERNET CONTROL. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern on 28 October over attempts by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the Ukrainian secret police, to assume control of the country's Internet operations and to intercept e-mail messages. On 22 July, a private company, Hostmaster, was taken to court by the Ukrainian government over the ".ua" domain name. The government has asked the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body in charge of assigning country domain names, to approve the proposed transfer, but has not yet received a response. On 17 July, the state telecommunications commission asked telecom operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) to install equipment to monitor all their traffic. The Ukrainian Internet Association called the decision an "unacceptable breach of privacy for Internet users" and noted that the measure was still illegal. The SBU asked parliament on 19 August to legalize the recording and interception of telephone and Internet messages, allegedly to help fight crime and bring the law into line with European standards. For more, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or see http://www.rsf.org. CC
REPORT DETAILS REPRESSIVE MEDIA ENVIRONMENT AND UPCOMING ELECTIONS... A year before crucial national elections in Ukraine, the country's news media is under increasing assault, threatening chances for a fair and balanced electoral contest, according to a Freedom House report issued on 28 October. In the report, "Under Assault: Ukraine's News Media and the 2004 Presidential Elections," Ukraine's news media was found to be suffering under an elaborate system of censorship that keeps opposition groups off the airwaves and out of the newspapers. The report highlights how President Leonid Kuchma's administration distorts news and skews coverage of political affairs, as well as outlining other obstacles, such as economic vulnerabilities, poor ethical standards, and inadequate journalist training. CC
...AND ISSUES RECOMMENDATIONS. The Freedom House report urges the Ukrainian government to: place the necessary financial support for state-subsidized media under the control of a multi-party committee that includes the major political parties; and investigate murders, attacks, and threats against journalists. The report also urges the international community to: ensure adequate domestic monitoring and to initiate international election monitoring six months before the poll, including monitoring of news media; and negotiate appearances on state media of OSCE election monitors during the six months before election day to engage in a meaningful debate on the election process. See the report at www.freedomhouse.org/pdf_docs/ukraine/ukrainemedia.pdf. CC
REGIONALPRESS FREEDOM SURVEY RANKS TURKMENISTAN WORST IN CENTRAL ASIA. Turkmenistan's press freedom record is the worst in Central Asia, according to the second annual press freedom review by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The Turkmen government is ranked as one of the world's top 10 press freedom offenders and Turkmenistan ranked 158 out of 166, for the worst press freedom status in Central Asia. "There is essentially no press freedom in Turkmenistan today. There is absolutely no independent press," said RSF researcher Caroline Giraud. "Maybe we don't have many cases of censorship or reports of journalists being arrested, but such instances only happen in a country struggling to establish an independent press -- something that clearly isn't happening in Turkmenistan," she added. Turkmenistan's neighbor, Uzbekistan, was hardly better, ranking 154th. "It's a bit different in Uzbekistan," explained Giraud. "Journalists are a bit freer and there are a few media outlets that -- while not free -- might employ some journalists that might risk a little more in their writing." The criteria used in the RSF rankings include a lack of independent news media, government repression of the media, difficult working conditions for journalists, and no freedom or security with many journalists facing death or imprisonment. Rankings were compiled through analysis of distributed questionnaires and press freedom evaluations by journalists, researchers, jurists, and human rights activists. Scandinavian countries received the best rankings, while North Korea was ranked the worst, with Cuba just above. For more, visit http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=8247.
INDEPENDENT MEDIA OPEN FIRST PRINTING PLANT IN SERBIA. Serbian and Montenegrin media now have their own printing plant, due to support from the World Association of Newspapers (WAN). The Association of Private Media, a local consortium of 12 independent newspapers, has recently opened a new printing plant in Belgrade -- the first in the country owned by independent media. The new plant, which can print up to 60,000 copies an hour, is the result of a five-year plan initiated by WAN and UNESCO to improve the distribution of newspapers, WAN says. In 1999, the government had a monopoly on printing and distribution, which was often abused in an attempt to crush independent voices, notes WAN. WAN and UNESCO received financial support from the European Agency for Reconstruction and Development and from Denmark, France, and Germany. For more, contact Larry Kilman at email@example.com.
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS RUSSIAN MEDIA... Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 24 October accused Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko of provoking "nonobjective" media coverage of the 14 October meeting in Moscow of the Higher State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union, RosBalt reported. Following that meeting, Russian media quoted an unidentified presidential-administration source as saying the two countries had failed to agree on introducing the Russian ruble as the union's common currency because Lukashenka is primarily concerned with his own political role within the future union. Since no such role for Lukashenka is envisioned, the source said, the situation has reached a "stalemate." Lukashenka claimed that Prikhodko was the anonymous source and that Voloshin was the leak's "director." He accused them of trying to thwart Russia's merger with Belarus. Russia's leadership, Lukashenka added, fears sharing its powers with the union structures, newsru.com reported on 26 October. The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, summoned Belarus's ambassador to Russia, Vladimir Grigoryev, on 25 October to protest Lukashenka's "unfriendly" comments, Interfax reported. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003)
...AND SPEAKS ONLINE ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a real-time online news conference on Belarusian-Russian relations on his official website (http://www.president.gov.by) on 24 October, Belarusian media reported. The site was reportedly inaccessible for much of the duration of the online conference, however, breeding speculation that it was attacked by hackers or that the site was technically ill-equipped for such a conference. Lukashenka reiterated his earlier stance that the Russian ruble will be introduced in Belarus only after both countries adopt a constitution for the Russia-Belarus Union. Lukashenka rejected reports that followed his 14 October meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003) asserting that there has been a stalemate in bilateral relations. Lukashenka accused Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin and his deputy, Sergei Prikhodko, of disseminating such reports. Lukashenka described his meeting with Putin as "a constructive and very useful conversation," adding that the two sides "made no progress, but did not take a step backward either." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October)
NEW BOOKS, WEBSITESCPJ RELEASES NEW JOURNALIST SECURITY HANDBOOK. On 29 October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released an updated version of its journalist security handbook, titled "On Assignment: A Guide to Reporting in Dangerous Situations." This new edition, which draws on lessons from the most recent war in Iraq, is available online: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2003/safety/journo_safe_guide.pdf . The report also includes advice on coping with risks that so many local journalists and their families confront on a daily basis. The handbook, geared toward editors and journalists, provides a wide overview of security issues, plus resources and practical information from training and insurance to body armor and the rules of war. CC
BOOK ON MEDIA IN MULTILINGUAL SOCIETIES PUBLISHED IN SERBIAN. The Serbian-language edition of a book on media in multilingual societies was published recently in Belgrade, Serbia, and Montenegro. The book, launched in September by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), addresses the role of the media within multilingual democracies. It includes contributions from independent media experts in Macedonia, Luxembourg, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro, and Switzerland. For more, contact OMiSaM-Spokesperson@osce.org. CC
END NOTEPRESS FREEDOM IN PERIL IN RUSSIA
By Thomas A. Dine
Late last month, the journalists' advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders issued a global press-freedom index that ranked Russia 121 out of 139 countries surveyed. That's just ahead of Iran, Zimbabwe, and Belarus, and lower than such notorious media muzzlers as Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Earlier this year, Freedom House downgraded Russia's media rating from "partly free" to "not free," citing "state harassment" as the primary reason.
When U.S. President George W. Bush welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington on 26-27 September to discuss their deepening cooperation in the war against terrorism and other issues, he should have made it clear that the U.S. is dissatisfied with Putin's continuing crackdown on press freedom, a trend that crudely contradicts the country's purported transition to democracy and rule of law.
The media policies of Putin's administration have consistently been guided by its larger ideological principle of minimizing and channeling all public activism -- an uncompromising approach that has stifled elections, political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and public referendums as well. "The orgy of free speech is over," presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky told journalists in Yekaterinburg in November.
Independent Russian journalists are subjected to nuisance lawsuits, harassment by tax police and other authorities and, in some cases, violent attacks whose perpetrators are never caught and prosecuted. Their newspapers, magazines, television, and radio stations have been targeted in heavy-handed takeovers by officials and their business proxies.
Putin himself brought Russia's media crisis to a head this summer when he signed into law amendments that give sharp teeth to Russia's revamped election laws by banning all but the most saccharine media coverage of political campaigns. Putin's signature gives authorities enforcement powers to quash free speech, including heavy fines and the power to suspend the activities of any news organization that violates the rules.
The key first trials of the new legislation will be two critical tests of Russia's struggling democratic system: December elections to the Duma -- Russia's lower house of parliament -- and the presidential election in March 2004. Putin and his allies are running far ahead of the opposition, but with these stifling new regulations they are taking no chances.
The new rules ostensibly are aimed at eliminating paid-to-order smear campaigns against candidates, known as "black PR," that journalists acknowledge are common. But the result is Orwellian. The rules ban any form of analysis, the staple of journalistic campaign coverage; anything that could be perceived as advocacy; and the forecasting of results. The regulations also require equal space or time to all participants in elections -- a logistical impossibility as there are more than 40 political parties registered in Russia. The likely result is that better-known incumbents, Putin and his allies, should have an easy time holding on to power.
Sergei Bolshakov, a member of the Central Election Commission, told one interviewer that the media must stick to "informing voters about the announced goals of the parties (for example, in their campaign programs), and about actions that they promise to undertake in case of victory. It is not for the mass media to argue with one or another proposal of a party's program or to incline the voter one way or another. That is for other parties."
To try to make sense of this mandate, journalists can consult an 80-page brochure prepared by the electoral commission. In Q & A form (113 questions in all), journalists get some guidance about what they can say and write. Question 21, for instance, provides a tip on covering debates in the Duma: journalists must refrain from mentioning that a deputy is up for reelection, as this could influence voters. The electoral commission's Bolshakov recently gave another example: it is acceptable to write about how a candidate promises to build free housing if elected, but it is forbidden to point out that the candidate had failed to fulfill similar promises after a previous election.
Clear enough? Don't look to the law itself -- all 250 pages of it -- for much help. Its vague language is reminiscent of malleable Soviet-era laws that sent millions to prison, or worse. The new law specifies that the electoral commission "has the right" to take measures, rather than being "obligated" to do so. A violation "may" serve as grounds for rescinding registration, rather than "must." Such provisions allow authorities to impose double standards, rewarding supporters and punishing opponents.
Speaking for many colleagues, Yevgenii Kiselev, former TV anchor and the new editor of the "Moscow News," told Ekho Moskvy that "after the adoption of [these] amendments to the election laws, the profession of political analyst has become senseless." It emerged this month that the leading political talk shows on Russian national television no longer are broadcast live, out of concern that speakers might violate the new laws on election coverage. Viewers were not informed of the change in policy.
Responding to criticism, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has repeatedly reassured journalists that the commission has no intention of "nit-picking." Other officials have gone so far as to hint that journalists should simply ignore the law because it won't be enforced. In Moscow, where mayoral elections will also be held in December, city election chief Valentin Gorbunov recently told journalists that "the Moscow Election Commission will always be on the side of the journalists." The record of Russian officials to date, however, suggests otherwise.
Russian authorities also frequently cite statistics showing that many thousands of media outlets are registered in Russia. But they fail to note the steady decline in the quantity, quality, and variety of responsible public-interest content and the steady rise in sex-, crime-, and sports-oriented publications. Such outlets not only are intrinsically profitable, but are also exempt from the extra costs associated with lawsuits and harassment by the Tax Police, the Health Inspectorate, the Federal Security Service, and the like. "The state doesn't pressure us," "Moskovskii Komsomolets" editor Pavel Gusev said in December. "It just never lets us forget that it exists."
Under Putin's leadership, Russia has hit the post-Soviet bottom of press freedom. It is time to get on the road to real reform and to promote the basic values of a free society, including a free media. That's in Russia's long-term interests, and in America's as well, if Russia is to finally and fully become a partner of the U.S. and global community of democracies.
Thomas A. Dine is president of RFE/RL.